My Relationship Bloopers
Aha! A journey through my relationship bloopers and blunders, in the hopes that I can help others learn from my mishaps. I will share what I’ve learned and the things I’ve done to change my outcome. Maybe your story is similar or maybe it’s completely different but I’m hoping that sharing my experiences will help you make sense of your own relationship choices…good or bad. Or at the very least help you to feel that you are not alone.
But before I do that…here’s some back story. Life is an accumulation of experiences shaped by people and moments that impact our development as human beings. Adolescence is probably the most significant time in a person’s life because we begin to adjust to the physiological changes in our bodies and establish our sexual identity. How your life plays out from here, has a lot to do with your experiences during these formative years. I wanted to preface “My Relationship Bloopers” with this explanation because my formative years were highly dysfunctional. My father was a volatile, tyrannical man who parented with an iron fist. You can imagine the impact this would have on a young girl. I lived in fear every day waiting for the next “shoe” (or chair, or belt) to drop – on my head. If the physical abuse wasn’t bad enough, he further impeded my growth and development by sexually molesting me during these vitally important years.
Knowing this back story is important because it shows how my experiences as a child impacted my self-perception which impacted my relationship “choices’ in future years. I have learned so many valuable lessons from each of my relationships, and even though all of them were a struggle, I don’t look back with any regrets. Well actually I do but I can’t do anything about that now, right? Fortunately I was able to learn something about myself from each relationship and for that I’m grateful because they’ve made me who I am today. It’s been a long journey (uphill both ways – barefoot – subzero temps, yada yada), but I’m still learning because I believe in continuous improvement. I finally like who I am and I’m excited about the future.
I go into more detail about my childhood experiences in my post “My Childhood” see link at the bottom of this post.
Spoiler alert! To protect the guilty (because I’m so nice), I'll use the names of the Beatles in place of their real names…clever right?!
My first real relationship wasn’t until after high school (circa 1986); he was an Italian/Irish boy from Chicago. We met at my first office job where I worked the front desk at a mortgage/finance company. He was fresh out of college and his family was tight-knit and very passionate people. Their passion often manifested itself as anger. They were always yelling at each other. I remember the time when we were on our way to a party and his cousin was driving behind us. They were goofing around and yelling out the window, calling each other names, honking their horns and driving erratically pretending to hit each other with their cars. In the process, his cousin got too close and hit John’s bumper. At that moment, John became enraged, parked his car in the middle of the road, and ran to his cousin’s car and screamed at him while trying to punch him through the halfway-rolled down window. His cousin quickly rolled up his window and that was the end of it. They laughed about it later.
Anyway, back to the beginning, our first date was at a Cubs game, and it was really the first time a boy paid this kind of attention to me. Even though I felt awkward because of all the attention, I liked it. We went out for dinner, movies, and family parties. He complimented me all the time and for someone with no self-esteem it felt really good. I felt a close connection with him because he was kind, attentive and caring. He made me feel special. So, after a month of dating, we had sex. Of course, it was my first experience and I remember feeling very unsure of what to do. It wasn’t at all what I had pictured my first time to be like. Yes, I had the typical chick fantasies of falling in love, then making passionate love while romantic music magically starts playing in the background, cuddling afterwards, and blah blah. Yeah…not so much! (I equate this experience to the bombshell revelation in my youth about how Santa wasn’t real.) I felt bamboozled, and thought, “This can’t be it?!” Apparently, I had watched too many romantic movies and had a warped sense of reality. Unfortunately, it took me many years to come to terms with the fact that life doesn’t play out as it does in the movies or romantic novels.
Things with John started to change after that. The attention I had loved so much in the beginning was changing and so was the level of kindness. Once, at a New Year’s Eve party, I saw him flirting with a girl. I mean it was blatant and I was crushed. I got upset and went to bed. I was sleeping when he came into my room drunk, and got on top of me. I was half asleep and before I knew it, he was inside me. I tried to get him off me but by then, he was done. He became negative, degrading, and disrespectful in the following months. I felt betrayed by his behavior because I always thought that once I gave myself to someone in that way, he would be caring, respectful, and devoted. Unfortunately, this was the pattern in almost all of my relationships to follow.
Typical scenario: The guy is crazy about me for the first four months, then something happens – I’m not sure what – and then he starts treating like crap!
During the two years we were together I had expressed to him how his behavior made me feel and he did nothing about it. I know now that I stayed longer than I should have but I think it’s because I tried to recapture the feelings I had for him during those first few wonderful months of courtship. I also stayed because I had no idea of how to be alone after being in a relationship. Even though it was a terrible relationship, I was connected to another person in such an intimate way. I thought that I couldn’t go back to being by myself because I really didn’t know who that person was anymore. I simply couldn’t picture my life without him in it because if I looked into the future, it was very lonely. I couldn’t bear the thought of how I would fill my time. I knew this man wasn’t who I wanted to be with but, in my mind, the alternative was daunting.
John lived an hour away and he ended up getting a job with a different company so we didn’t see each other at work every day. We were spending less time together which helped me slowly detach myself from him. I also started working a second job at a local restaurant because I wanted to earn more money. I think this was my way of getting out of this relationship. I was able to fill my time working which helped me not miss the relationship and feel lonely. Plus there were a few new people at the restaurant that caught my attention.
John was talking about marriage, and I was like, “oh hell no”! I now had my sights set on the cute bartender Paul who kept flirting with me and soon I was like…”John who?” Yes, I know, very immature and I’m not proud of it but that was how I ended my relationship with John. I started dating Paul.
One thing that truly surprised me was John’s reaction when I broke up with him. He was shocked! But I told him on many occasions that I wasn’t happy! I had expressed myself and my needs throughout the relationship and he couldn’t, or wouldn’t change, so in my mind, breaking up was inevitable. I had assumed he understood that.
This relationship was my first experience and it was tough. I learned that this level of attachment with another human being evokes incredible emotions. It can make you feel so incredibly high and then so incredibly low. I was not prepared for the feelings I encountered during this relationship. He said he loved me but then he made me feel really bad because he said or did hurtful things to me. Am I up? Am I down? Am I happy? Am I sad? Many times, I felt as though I had no control of my own mind because my heart was doing my thinking for me. This was something I will struggle with in most of my relationships to follow.
I continued on my quest to find the same kind of passionate love that Debra Winger found at the end of “An Officer and a Gentleman.” Yeah…still naïve.
Paul was the bartender at the restaurant I worked at part-time. I was dating John when I first started working there but Paul caught my attention right away. He had quite a reputation as a player. He had dated several girls at the restaurant, stayed after work on many nights, drinking and doing drugs with the other employees, and seemed to have no motivation to do anything else with his life. Yes, Paul was perfect for me!? We flirted for a while and everyone warned me not to get involved, but I did anyway. In my defense, I was young, I craved the attention, and the attraction was undeniable. It was great he was attentive, affectionate, kind, complimentary, and caring. The sex, however, was similar to my first experience in the sense that he didn’t seem concerned if I was satisfied or not. To be fair, I didn’t have much sexual prowess to even know what I wanted or what there was to want – if that makes any sense. I suppose, a part of me was counting on a more experienced man to show me the ropes.
After dating for, you guessed it, about four months things started to get rocky. Paul was very jealous and lacked self-esteem. He started playing mind games like purposely neglecting me, then yelling at me for not spending time with him. He would flirt with other women and then accuse me of being attracted to his best friend. If we were out in public he would accuse me of looking at men and asked me if I wanted to f*@k them. He also accused me of being promiscuous and that he couldn’t trust me because I had sex with him on our first date. Afterwards he would apologize and feel bad for behaving like a jerk. By the time I saw the “real” Paul, I was already emotionally attached. I continued to hope that he would change back into the guy I fell for in the beginning of our courtship.
“When people show you who they are, believe them.” – Maya Angelou
While I was dating Paul I decided to enroll in the fashion design program at our community college. When I was in college, I aspired to become a successful fashion designer. The classes were intense. I was up all hours of the night completing projects and learning how to sew. I think this contributed to Paul’s insecurities about being a bartender. He saw me excelling in school and figured I would become famous and leave him. His jealousy was getting worse. He decided to change his life by getting a respectable job. He moved out of his sister’s house, and got a nice apartment. I thought all of these changes would help build up his self-esteem. I thought if I changed some of my behaviors, he would become more secure and stop being so jealous. I stopped going out with my friends and was with him all the time so he wouldn’t question where I was. I thought that if I praised and complimented him, it would build up his confidence. Wasn’t that nice of me? One time, he interrogated me for a week because he couldn’t believe I was shopping at the mall, for five hours, with my mom. I’m a 20-year-old woman, why is that so hard to believe? It was apparent that after two years he wasn’t going to change. I began contemplating leaving the relationship.
Around this time I came down with the flu; or so I thought. I had an extremely high fever and flu-like symptoms. As I lay there on the couch unable to move, I started to get an itching sensation in my nether region. Next came the excruciating pain and burning. I had no idea what was happening but after a visit to my doctor, he confirmed the sores on my genitals were herpes! I was stunned in disbelief. This was the most devastating news of my life. How could this happen? Paul denied he had herpes and I wasn’t with anybody else. I spent the next several months trying to process how this could happen to me. Not to mention the pain I had to endure every time I had a break-out. I felt dirty. I felt trapped in this relationship because I was planning on leaving and now I felt like I couldn’t. The thought “Who will want me now that I have this hideous disease?” would plague me for the next several years. Even though Paul denied having herpes he seemed to know a lot about the disease. He was amazingly comforting when he told me “It’s not that big of a deal. You probably got it from a toilet seat.” He said he knew of someone who had herpes and the break-outs lessen in frequency over time and can be treated with medication. I didn’t know much about the disease and Google was years away from being invented. I didn’t feel like I could talk to anyone about it because I was so ashamed, so I kept it a secret. It did strike me as odd that Paul, the most jealous man on the planet, was amazingly calm when finding out his girlfriend had contracted herpes. It’s a sexually transmitted disease! It would be a typical reaction for an insanely jealous person (who didn’t have the disease) to assume I had cheated on him and that’s how I contracted herpes…right? However, Paul didn’t react that way at all. There was only one way I could have contracted herpes and that was from him. He was obviously lying to me about not being infected but at the time I was so traumatized that I couldn’t see through his smoke and mirrors.
His jealousy reached new heights during my father’s funeral. Family members and friends were comforting me and he was distraught by the fact that I was being hugged by men he didn’t know. He actually took me aside and told me how upset it made him to see me hugging these men. As we sat there on the curb outside the back of the funeral home, I reassured him he had nothing to worry about. That these men were only being cordial. After this episode, I lost all respect for him. Not only was he not there for me during a time when I needed unwavering support, but he was continually sucking the life out of me with his jealousy and insecurity. Nothing I did or could have done would help him overcome his self-esteem issues. I no longer looked at him as a man. I looked at him as a child that needed constant coddling and re-assurance. Unfortunately for him, I wasn’t ready to be a mother.
We dated for four tumultuous, co-dependent years until I finally had the strength to leave. We were stuck in a cycle breaking up and getting back together. One reason why I stayed in this relationship was that the thought of being alone terrified me. No matter how hard I tried I could not picture my life without him! I was also insecure about my disease and was convinced no other man would want me. He knew about these weaknesses and worked those to his advantage to manipulate me into staying with him. I knew I didn’t want this anymore but I felt powerless. He said all the right things and promised he would change, but that never happened. I finally had the strength to leave, largely because I started a relationship with Ringo.
As a result of this experience with Paul, I realized what I didn’t want in a relationship. I learned that I am not responsible for someone else’s failures or lack of self-esteem. I also learned that when someone doesn’t trust you to the degree Paul didn’t trust me, it could very well mean that they themselves cannot be trusted.
He was much older, sophisticated, worldly, and accomplished. I’ll call this my “experimental phase.” He was a kind, mature, romantic man who knew how to treat a woman. He made me feel special and beautiful. Now, I understand that because I was a very immature 23-year-old whose self-esteem took a beating in her last relationship, I was ripe for the picken’. However, I never felt used or being taken advantage of as Ringo was always respectful. In fact, more respectful than the previous two men I dated, and more respectful than most of the men who followed.
Ringo exposed me to a world I had not seen, being an inexperienced, introverted young woman. He took me to upscale restaurants and encouraged me to try new and unique foods. He enlightened me on interesting books and eccentric music. He opened doors and pulled out chairs for me. He was also very generous when it came to intimacy and encouraged me to be sexually uninhibited. I began to realize my own sexuality for the first time because Ringo actually took an interest in pleasing me instead of selfishly focusing on himself. This was new for me and dare I say, quite thrilling. I was able to feel desire on a purely sexual level. Because I knew this relationship wasn’t going to lead to something long-term, it felt liberating. I’m not talking “50 Shades of Grey,” but a part of me was able to surrender to the “bad girl” inside me without the fear of being judged.
Let me explain what I mean. It was an unspoken perception that women who were “too sexual” were considered slutty and therefore not suitable for marriage. Even though it’s not a requirement for a woman to be a virgin in our culture, it’s unacceptable for her to be “too experienced.” I could be wrong but I believe this is because nothing can ever encroach on a man’s virility. A woman’s sexual experience wasn’t openly talked about but it was definitely frowned upon for her to be more “experienced” than her man. Like it or not, it’s their world and we’re just livin’ in it! If you did have more experience than your man, you kept it to yourself because revealing your level of sexuality could mean the difference between the title of a “married woman” and a “spinster.”
Let’s talk about that word “spinster” as it was still being used in legal documents (my first mortgage) back in the 80s. The definition is “an unmarried woman, and especially one past the common age for marrying.” a.k.a. “old maid.”
Okay back on topic…my relationship with Ringo granted me the permission to feel pleasure openly and freely. I kept this relationship a secret, however, because I was ashamed to admit I was involved with a married man. I continued to go out with my friends and search for a “legitimate” relationship while living this secret life. The secret made it exciting but eventually the veil of guilt became too overwhelming. I knew I wouldn’t be able to fully commit to finding a long-term relationship while I was still having this affair. He was too much of a distraction.
Because this experience expanded my knowledge about myself, my sexuality, and the world, I became more confident and comfortable in my own skin. I left this relationship without another one waiting in the wings. This was a huge turning point for me since I was unable to leave my previous relationships without a backup plan. I knew I had matured and was closer to finding my life partner.
It was 1994 and at this point in my life, I had my own place, earned my degree in fashion design, had a decent job (okay, it barely paid the bills), and was ready to find my Richard Gere. Because he was going to love me so much that he would scoop me up and carry me off into the sunset to love and cherish me for the rest of our lives…right!?
My friends and I were all approaching the age of desperation (old maid, ticking biological clock stuff). We went out three nights a week, trolling bars to find potential husbands. It was time to get serious about marriage and starting a family. Looking back, it would have been healthier to focus on myself and what I truly wanted out of life…but there was no time for that; clock’s ticking!
It was Spring of 1996. We met at a bar and after a few phone calls and dates, we started dating exclusively. He was funny, he had a formal education, a job, a house, and he appeared responsible and trustworthy. Even though I didn’t have a full grasp of what I wanted in a life-partner, all of these things seemed like a good start for what I considered to be “long-term relationship” material. George hadn’t dated much before me and was extremely awkward. So awkward, that when I saw him, he would sweat profusely and shake nervously. It was kind of endearing in an “aww, that’s so sweet” boyish way. I, being the consummate people-pleaser, tried desperately to make him feel comfortable around me because I felt sorry for him. I think because of his lack of experience dating, he didn’t know how to treat a woman. “No problem”, I thought. “I will teach him!” He became my project.
Note: I don’t recommend this as a foundation for a healthy relationship, unless he admits he’s clueless and is willing to be your pupil.
The first four months were great (note the pattern). Then the red flags started to appear. George was a poor communicator and would immediately “shut down” the instant there was any display of emotion (happy or sad). He put his group of college friends on a pedestal and would sooner die than not be able to spend time with them…I was last on his list. He was stiff, unaffectionate, very uncomfortable in social settings, and clumsy in bed. Oh, and he was a terrible kisser! I soon discovered George, more than any other man I’ve ever known, just didn’t get it. I simply couldn’t believe how utterly clueless he was, so I made it my mission to show him how relationships work. Like I was an expert or something! Seriously though, I felt like I had a good idea of what a healthy relationship looked like and wanted desperately to teach him so that he could experience all the joy and happiness we could have together. Because of my desperation, I convinced myself that these things were fixable or changeable; like wet clay on a pottery wheel. As long as he was moldable, I would sculpt my masterpiece.
Note: not a good idea to enter a relationship with goals of changing someone.
George didn’t have a clue as to my desire to “fix” him and even though my efforts didn’t seem to be taking affect, I still kept trying in the hopes he would become a model student. After dating for several months, in my mind, we were moving towards marriage. I remember a discussion/argument we had about his cavalier attitude towards marriage and my obvious fervor. At the end of the conversation I said, “If after a year of dating, you don’t see marriage in our future…I’m out.”
Note: Ultimatums…not a good idea either.
My goal was to find a husband and get married. I wasn’t going to waste my time if this guy didn’t intend to “buy the cow”. He proposed to me almost on the day of our one year anniversary, and in July 1998 we had a big wedding. I convinced myself, once we got married, I would be propelled to the number one spot on his list and he would finally cherish me as his wife. But even during the wedding and shortly after, I feared I had made a mistake.
The last few minutes of my wedding reception set the tone for the next 12 years of our marriage. As the DJ packed up, I gathered my things in preparation to give the hall our final payment. As I stood at the top of the winding staircase waving good-bye to all of our guests, I noticed I was standing there alone. I quickly looked around for my husband to have him join me. When I couldn’t find him, I scanned the crowd only to find that he is one of the hundred people exiting the building.
George was not a good husband. I really don’t know why I expected him to magically become a good husband when he wasn’t a good boyfriend. All of the concerns I had before we were married did not seem so fixable now. In the months following our wedding, I discovered a new and very disturbing side of him that I didn’t see before. He was very sarcastic in a nasty, hostile way and his harsh words cut like a knife. I often found myself dumbfounded at some of the brutal things that came out of his mouth. Another thing that became apparent was that he felt that everyone around him was a complete moron, including me.
After a few months, I suggested counseling and he was receptive to the idea. George seemed to want to work on our differences in order to find common ground, but it was really all fluff. At the time I didn’t know this but after spending several years with this man and learning his true character, he really only wanted to “look” like he was trying for the sake of our counselor.
February 2000 I found out I was pregnant. This was happy news. I was simply over-joyed! We had been trying for almost a year but because I had irregular periods and had to take medication to stimulate ovulation. The pregnancy went well and in October of 2000 I gave birth to my beautiful baby girl. I was convinced that now, with a child in our lives, he would be able to see the value in marriage and family and decide to be a great husband and father.
“The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.” – Dr. Phil
I wanted him to be the type of father that rolled up his sleeves and got in the trenches with me. This meant spending time together. It meant we had to plan things around our daughter’s schedule. When you have a child, your life and focus should change. You often have to make sacrifices. This conflicted with his plans to do what he wanted to do; when he wanted to do it. What he didn’t want to do was be burdened with the “ol’ ball-n-chain” or the tough job of parenting. He spent as little time as possible at home because this was too much of a “sacrifice”.
George never did see the value in marriage and family like I’d hoped he would. After months of begging and pleading for him to be a family with us, he finally told me, “I’m putting my foot down and not making any more sacrifices.” Apparently he felt as though he had made enough sacrifices up until this point. Deep down, I didn’t know what I truly wanted in life but once I had a child, I knew I wanted to be a great mom. I wanted my husband to be a great dad, and for us to be the family I dreamed of giving my daughter. Basically, the family I never had when I was growing up. We obviously didn’t have the same ideas about marriage and family.
Note: I recommend people talk about their marriage and family values before they get married.
There was really no way to resolve our conflicts so I just had to focus on being the best mom I could be to my daughter. I tried to surrender my needs and be happy in a relationship that gave me nothing but financial support. I spent the next nine years trying to convince myself that it was best for my daughter if her parents stayed together. I tried to find the love I needed through her and my friendships, but I often cried myself to sleep at night. My daughter was seemingly happy and my husband provided for us financially, so I tried desperately to stick it out as long as I could.
However, during this time, I had a chance to do some soul searching and discovered that my entire life, up until now, had been a total farce. (See the link below “Disease to Please – My Story”) I realized that for the majority of my life, I was a chameleon; changing myself in order to fit into my newest environment. The more I discovered about my disease, the less tolerant I became of his ill treatment. He didn’t respond well to these changes and his anger and resentment grew. He became even more cruel and began to degrade me by saying things like “Why are you so stupid?” or “You need to get a life.” However, I fought back and it caused a lot of friction between us. My daughter was getting older and witnessing the way he treated me and I needed her to see me stand up for myself. I wanted her to grow up into a strong, confident woman, and I felt it was my responsibility to represent that for her.
This marriage was holding me back from being my “authentic self” and I needed to get out. In 2005 I began formulating my exit strategy. I started taking general education courses at the community college with the intention of eventually earning a bachelor’s degree. I wanted to secure a future for me and my daughter and I felt that a college degree would help me get a better job. I started a weight loss program and began exercising regularly. I was terrified to get a divorce but these things helped me build my confidence and strength in order to power through the next several years.
After years of abuse I had reached my limit. Because of his personality, I knew it would be best if the idea of divorce came from him so I pushed his hand a bit. It was the summer of 2009 and we were at a family outing. George, as usual, was being his usual cruel self and treating me as if I were an annoying glob of gum on the bottom of his shoe. I decided right then and there this was the last time. I was done letting him treat me disrespectfully and rather than get into a fight, I stopped talking to him altogether. There was really nothing left to say anyway. I had said it all a million times before; he didn’t get it then and he wasn’t going to get it now. I wasn’t willing to be treated in any way other than with love and respect. It was now up to him to decide what he was going to do. August 2009 after about a month of me ignoring him, George filed for divorce. I was scared but truthfully, in my mind, anything had to be better than living this miserable life.
George and I were not compatible mates and I knew this from the beginning but I thought I could change him. I was trying to force a square peg into a round hole for 14 years. Even though I wanted to blame him for everything that went wrong in our marriage, I had to accept responsibility for my part in the implosion. I was not a whole person going into this marriage and my desperation to be married fogged my judgment. It was a tough lesson but marriage does not automatically equal love.
The divorce was final in November of 2010. It was difficult on everyone, but I got through it fairly unscathed in comparison to the other horror stories I’ve heard. So far I haven’t mentioned anything about the toll the divorce took on my daughter because this is about my relationship experience. I will be posting about her experience soon though because it’s important to know that our children are the collateral damage of divorce. It is truly unfortunate what they have to endure as a result of our decisions.
A few takeaways from my relationship experiences:
- Try not to let societal pressures; or family; or friends dictate how you live your life.
- This is your life and you only get one. So figure out how you want to live it, and make it count!
- Choose a partner who compliments your personality and has similar life goals. Talk about these things so you understand each other’s paths! Ask yourself if you are willing to make compromises so that your partner can reach their goals. If not, don’t lie to the other person or yourself and move on. Yes, it will be hard but there is someone or something else in the plans for you.
- Date for at least a year and if you think this person is “the one”, live together for at least a year after that.
- There are certain compromises one has to make in a relationship, but if you find yourself compromising so much that you lose your identity, maybe it’s time to move on.
- Desperation is not a reason to seek out a mate and jump into a marriage.
- Marriage is hard work and both people need to be willing to support and fight for each other.
The movie “The Climb” was released in 2009 and the theme song from that movie became my theme song for moving forward. In fact, it’s my life’s anthem if I’m being honest. Anyway, every time the song came on the radio, usually when I was in the car, I would let myself sob until I could barely see the road through my tears. Tears of sadness that my life was about to change drastically and tears of joy that my life was about to change drastically. As I looked back on my life filled with so many struggles, I realized how far I’d come. It was all uphill from here.
“There’s always gonna be another mountain, I’m always gonna want to make it move…”
“There’s always gonna be an uphill battle, sometimes I’m gonna have to lose…”
“Ain’t about how fast I get there, ain’t about what’s waiting on the other side…”
“It’s the climb” – Miley Cyrus
“Dating After Divorce” see my post about my revelations about dating online, men, and myself.
“My Childhood” see my post about my childhood which helps put into perspective my struggles with relationships and what lead to my people-pleasing disease.
“Disease to Please – My Story” see my post about the discovery of my disease and my recovery.
Images originated from graphicstock.com but have been tweaked for my blog